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A TED Talk, Week 3

What to make of two convincing wins and one brutal loss

NFL: Oakland Raiders at Minnesota Vikings Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Hi kids, so are we doing better this morning? We are three weeks in to the season, and it feels like there are some patterns developing for the Minnesota Vikings. For one, we the fans are about as skittish as a herd of buffalo with a pack of wolves nearby. It feels like we’re ready to bolt and stampede in about 100 different directions at the first sign of trouble. You could sort of feel it building ever since the final gun sounded at Lambeau last week, and had the Vikings laid an egg against Oak Vegas we would have all been in full blown panic mode.

But that didn’t happen. For the second time in three games, the purple and gold played exceptional complementary football. Once again, the defense started off fast, which has been their main key to success so far. In week one they forced a three and out on Atlanta’s opening drive. Then the special teams blocked a punt and set the Vikings up for an early opportunity to score on a short field. On their second drive the Falcons went three and out again, the Vikings got the ball, and scored another touchdown. Against the Raiders, the Vikings gave up one first down in Oakland’s first two drives, and the offense got two touchdowns. In both wins, the Vikings had a 21-0 lead by the second quarter, and both games felt like they had been put out of reach.

Minnesota’s defense has been good at creating turnovers in their two wins as well. Besides the blocked punt in week one, the defense produced three turnovers, and as a team Minnesota was +3. Against the Raiders, they had an early interception, and the team was +1.

At Lambeau, the defense gave up three touchdowns on their first three drives, they were -2 in the turnover battle, and those two main factors prevented them from coming back to win the game, which they put themselves in position to do.

On offense, some clear patterns are emerging for the Vikings and their recipe for success. It seems counter-intuitive in today’s quarterback-centric, pass happy NFL, where modern analytics dictate that the running back isn’t important.

But I harken back to something I learned in the Army (heeeeeere we go)—if it’s stupid but it works, it’s not stupid.

The most obvious one is that this offense runs through Dalvin Cook, first and foremost. The new zone blocking scheme installed by The Denver Mafia is paying big dividends early. At this time last year, the Vikings had 198 yards rushing, or 66 yards per game. By season’s end, they were 30th in the NFL in rushing, and it was one of the worst rushing seasons in franchise history. This year, they have 581 yards in three games, they are 2nd in the NFL as a team, and Dalvin Cook currently leads the league in rushing with 375 yards in the first three games.

Even in last week’s loss, the Vikings stuck with the running game, and it paid off and got them jump started on a comeback after they went down 21-0. Cook is ‘The Guy’, and since John DiFilippo is currently presiding over the Gardner Minshew II Deb Ball Coming Out Party in Duval, the Vikings are not going to get away from running the ball this year.

And that’s not a bad thing.

So, where does this leave Kirk Cousins? I think the Vikings can win with him, certainly. But I think asking him to carry the team on his back regularly isn’t a recipe for success. I’m not saying this to bag on Cousins, either. He needed a confidence builder after last week’s three turnover game, and he bounced back with a pretty good game. It was a pedestrian stat line, for sure. 15/21 passing, 174 yards passing, and a touchdown isn’t going to put Kirk Cousins in the rarified air of what constitutes an elite quarterback...but he doesn’t need to be in this offense, either.

That’s going to be a bitter pill for the ‘but we paid him $84 million guaranteed’ crowd to swallow, but go get a glass of water and wash it down. I don’t care if Cousins throws for 174 yards or 374 yards, as long as the Vikings win. Those of us who were Teddy supporters when he was here would have been perfectly fine with the stat line Cousins dropped yesterday as long as the Vikings won. He made some good throws when they were needed, kept the offense moving, and had a very efficient day.

And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, no matter what his take home pay is.

Cousins also needs to minimize turnovers, which he has done in the two victories. It’s okay for Cousins to be a secondary or even tertiary weapon in this offense, as long as the running game can produce. But there is going to come a day when the running game isn’t producing and the Vikings will need Kirk Cousins to rise to the occasion.

Can he, though?

Because that is the one question that this season hangs on. He most certainly has the physical talent to do so, there is no question about that. If he can, the Vikings are going to be a very good football team. If he can’t, they are going to struggle to make the playoffs, like they did last year.

He didn’t against Green Bay, and the House of Horrors that is Soldier Field awaits. A win there and a good game by Cousins really transforms his career narrative, at least for a little while, while a loss causes the herd to stampede towards the cliff.

Thank you for listening to my TED talk.